The latest release of the Linux Mint distribution offers up a clean, user-friendly desktop environment with a good assortment of applications to meet the needs of most any typical user. Linux Mint 6 is based on Ubuntu 8.10 with a number of additional utilities added for extra polish. Setup and configuration is painless and takes less than 15 minutes on most any computer manufactured in the last few years.
There's a well-organized wiki with links to help you get started and a good set of documentation. One really helpful page on the wiki is the HOWTO page with links to things like partitioning a hard drive, dual booting with XP, creating a Live USB and more. While the main distribution is based on the GNOME desktop, they do have a KDE-based download available as well.
Installing additional software happens through the MintInstall program. This looks a lot like other Linux software managers with a few twists. One neat feature is the thumbnail image of the application along with a detailed description. There's also a list of reviewers and their ratings for the package, an overall average rating along with a list of views from the repository.
MintBackup will make a copy of everything in your home directory and save to an archive file. It gives you the option of excluding files or folders along with explicitly including hidden files such as your "dot" files like .config, .local, .openoffice.org2, etc. MintUpload is another extra tool providing a way to upload files to a public server to share. The latest release makes it possible to define additional FTP servers as a destination for uploading files.
MintMenu lets you configure your program launcher with shortcuts to your favorite applications. All you have to do is right click with the mouse on an application from the main menu and click on "Show in my favorites". You can also drag and drop an application icon on the "Favorites" button in the top right-hand corner of the menu to accomplish the same thing.
MintUpdate uses the same basic mechanism as a standard Ubuntu distribution with software repositories and a daemon process that periodically checks for updates. You'll notice a padlock icon in the system tray that will flash when updates are available. A small green check mark on the bottom of the padlock icon indicates that everything is up to date. MintUpdate uses a rating system with 5 levels to indicate if the packages have been tested and where they originated. Level 1 indicates a package has been tested and is certified by the Linux Mint maintainers while level 5 would be given to a package with known problems and would be dangerous to install.
On the security front there's MintNanny to provide domain blocking. You'll have to enter the domains by hand, so it's cumbersome at best. Although the network firewall is disabled by default you'll find that Gufw comes preinstalled and makes it easy to configure. There's a HOWTO link on the wiki pointing to a document on another site describing how to secure a Debian-based Linux laptop that's worth the read.